Who, What, Why… huh?
Now that the site’s been launched, I have two specific projects on my plate that want my attention. One is a short story and the other is my 2006 November Novel. The short story is pretty close to being ready for critique (or it was until I disassembled it last night and discovered some new gaps I need to fill,) but the novel… well, I mean, it’s a novel. Not even one, really. It’s the scaffolding around what will some day be a novel. 60k words of scaffolding.
It’s been sitting in its binder for a while, taunting me. I gave it a read late last year just to see what was in there, having given it a long cooling-off period. I’m guessing I need to discard about 20k of those words, replace another 15k, and add 40k new ones, but I hadn’t really got to work on it.
I mentioned it to a friend last week.
“What’s it about?” he asked.
I hate that question. It is a perfectly reasonable question, one that I should be able to answer. I have 60k words of fiction, some fairly fleshed out characters, and a nearly coherent story arc. “What’s it about?” should be an easy question to answer. I told my friend that I’d get back to him.
Last night I was trying to round out my Five Things, completely forgetting that I had in fact read my DailyLit and therefore already had five things for the day. I had been working on the short story for a while, and had exhausted myself on it for the night. I looked around my desk, hoping to find one more thing to do, something that wouldn’t take much time. I grabbed the binder that contains the printed draft of my novel and flipped it open. I had made some notes last week on changes that I need to make, new insight I had gained on a main character and solutions to a few problems that had been bothering me. Incorporating those changes was too tall an order for 10:00 p.m. on a Monday night.
In the pocket of the binder’s inside cover there were some hand-outs from a writer’s conference. I flipped through them idly until something caught my eye. “Who, What, Why?” the paper said. It was about writing a blurb for your book, something I have never really tried to do. And what is a blurb, if not an answer to the question “What’s it about?”
So I decided I would try to write a blurb. One paragraph, how hard could it be?
‘Who?’ Well, that was easy. I like my cast of characters. I know some of them better than others, and I’m learning more about them all the time. They all have names, and ages, families, and in some cases, occupations. They have personalities and voices. ‘Who’ is an easy question to answer.
Likewise ‘What?’ I know what they do, where they go, and when. But when I got to ‘Why?’ I found that my answers were thin, if they were there at all — and if I don’t know why they do what they do, then the reader sure as hell won’t.
This is basic characterization. I can’t answer “what’s it about?” until I can answer “what’s she about?”
Fortunately the answers started coming as soon as I asked the right question. Tonight I’m pretty tired, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it to Five, but I’m going to go add to my notes on the novel for a little while.
What’s it about?
I’ll get back to you.